Updated: Apr 30
Although Boston is known for its history and contribution in the American Revolution, it is also known for its intellectual reputation (Harvard & MIT), sports teams (Patriots & Red Sox) and the Boston Marathon. If you’re looking to get a feel of what makes Boston culture unique, check out the following 13 things when you visit.
JFK Library & Museum
I lived in Massachusetts for 8 years and worked in Boston after graduation. As a result, I have a special attachment to this city and would consider it as one of my many homes. After leaving in 2018 due to the political climate in the States, I returned for about a couple of months during the summer of 2021. Since the lockdown in Toronto was protracted, I needed a mental health break from it all. What better way than to return to a familiar place and be reunited with friends and loved ones.
During my trip, I decided to be a typical tourist and re-explore places I had seen before and also visited others that I hadn’t. It was a mix of nostalgia and learning to appreciate what I once took for granted when I was a resident.
“Although I’ve passed by Beacon Hill many times in the past while living in Boston, I did not appreciate it. Partly because I was in hustle mode, but also largely due to the fact that we all tend to not see the beauty in the places we live. We long to go someplace else and be tourists, yet forget that we can start right where we are.”
13 Attractions/Activities For Boston
In order to get a sense of Boston’s culture and history, the following are a must for your itinerary. However, if planning is not your favorite thing to do, there's an option to complete most of the following with a group via a bike tour of the city:
1. Fenway Park
Home of the Boston Red Sox!!! If you’re baseball fan, you definitely have to visit Fenway Park, join a guided tour or watch a game if time permits. Otherwise, you can also walk around Fenway and take in the history of the game and its importance to defining the character of Boston.
2. Boston Public Garden (Famous Ducks)
The Public Garden sits at the heart of downtown Boston and it is beautifully decorated. With a pond spanning 6-acres, visitors can ride the swan boats with a tour guide.
However, if you have kids and are wondering what to do with them, take them to see the famous ducks and her 8 ducklings at the Public Garden. They can be found near the corner of Beacon Street and Charles Street, which is towards the end of the Garden.
So what’s the story behind the ducks?
They come from Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book Make Way for Duckling, which tells the story of the duck family that makes its home in the Boston Public Garden. As a result of the popularity of the books, the bronze statue was later constructed by Nancy Schön at the garden.
This Famous Duck attraction is frequented by a lot of kids and their parents. So it my be hard to get a picture with all the kids mounting the duck/ducklings and refusing to get off. Overall, it’s an adorable sight if you’re not too bothered.
3. Boston Common
As you exit the Boston Public Garden, you’ll see that the Boston Common is adjacent to it, and a natural next stop. The Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. (Click HERE for a detailed history of the Boston Common).
When I visited again in 2021, it was Juneteenth, and the park was dedicated to historical art work and posters educating visitors about the contribution of African Americans in the abolishment of slavery in America.
4. Beacon Hill
There’s something about returning to a place you call home and seeing it through different eyes. Beacon Hill is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the United States, home to the rich and it’s also considered to be one of the most picturesque areas in Boston.
Do you agree with the picturesque part?
At first I didn’t see it; but as I got closer, the distinctive red brick houses and lamp stands did it for me. Although I’ve passed by Beacon Hill many times in the past while living in Boston, I did not appreciate it. Partly because I was in hustle mode, but also largely due to the fact that we all tend to not see the beauty in the places we live.
We long to go someplace else and be tourists, yet forget that we can start right where we are #BeATouristInYourOwnCity.
5. Copley Square
Named after the painter John Singleton Copley, the Copley square is a public square located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. It comprises of several architectural landmarks like the Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, John Hancock Tower etc. In addition, the unfortunate 2013 Boston Marathon bombing took place close to the Public Library.
6. Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail in Boston represents 250 years of history. It’s a 2.5 miles (4km) trail comprising of 16 nationally significant historic sites – museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond.
Today the Freedom Trail attracts over 4 million tourists annually. The trail starts from the Boston Common and also includes sites like the Park Street Church, Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill Monument, Paul Revere House etc.
During your visit, it’s likely that you’ll run into some famous students at the school or at the square. In my case it was Malia Obama and Yara Shahidi.
Can you do the Boston Freedom Trail on your own?
Yes you can, by visiting the individual sites on your own for free. This will allow you more time to take in the sights as you learn more about the history of the city. However, if you’d like to go with a tour company, it takes about 90 minutes to complete. Due to time constraints, we only visited the Bunker Hill Memorial, and also because I’ve visited most of the other sites as a resident.
7. Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market)
Is a large marketplace and meeting hall that was used by the Patriots on the eve of the American Revolution. As a result of its relevance in history, it is one of the stops on the Freedom Trail. In addition, Faneuil Hall was rated number 4 in “America’s 25 Most Visited Tourist Sites” by Forbes Traveler in 2008.
Faneuil marketplace comprises of 3 historic granite buildings – North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market, which collectively are known as “Quincy Market”. Today, it operates as an indoor/outdoor mall, entertainment destination and food eatery.
8. Kayaking on the Charles River Esplanade
The Charles River is the longest river (80 miles) in Massachusetts, starting from Hopkinton (southern Middlesex county) to its mouth on Boston Harbor. To many people, the 17-mile stretch of land along the banks of the Charles River is known as the Esplanade. It is frequented by Bostonians who are either going for a walk, jog, rollerblade, bike or just get some sun and people-watch. However, you can also take it to the next level and choose to either kayak, canoe or paddleboard in the Charles River. This is a great way to get a good view of the city!
I went kayaking in the Charles River for the first time in the summer of 2021! Wild – considering I lived in Boston for a good 4 out of 8 years. However, that usually happens when we’re too busy with out daily lives and don’t explore our own city. To kayak on the Charles, you have to book a slot with a company in advance – we used Paddle Boston and chose the Kendall location.
Note: The company also offered canoeing and paddleboard services if that appeals more to you.
There were forms to fill and guidelines around COVID-19 and punctuality/attendance for visitors.
9. JFK Library & Museum
As the name suggests, the JFK Presidential Library & Museum is dedicated to the memory & life of the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. When I visited during the pandemic, it was closed to visitor (re-added to the future bucket list).
The museum is free for children (0-5years) to visit, but not for youths ($14), adults ($18) & senior citizens ($16). Inn order to visit, you’d have to purchase your tickets in advance.
10. Harvard Square
The name already gives it away. Harvard Square is the triangular plaza at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street, near the center of Cambridge, MA. It is known as the home to America’s oldest university (Harvard University) and is also a gathering place for Harvard students, residents and visitors. Welcoming more than 8 million visitors annually, the square consists of coffeehouses, independent bookstores, cinemas, retailers, restaurants etc.
On the other hand is Harvard university, which is also frequented by students & visitors, with some in as part of a group tour. During your visit, it’s likely that you’ll run into some famous students at the school or at the square. In my case it was Malia Obama and Yara Shahidi.
11. Explore Boston’s Culinary Scene
Boston is famous for its seafood e.g. clam chowder, so you may want to add that to your list. When I was in college, I was not a fan of clam chowder – I just could not stand the smell! However, on this trip, I decided to be open minded and give it another shot. That did not happen. I probably talked myself out of it subconsciously. Maybe next time.
If clam chowder also isn’t on your itinerary this time, here are a 5 Pescatarian Friendly Restaurants to check out during your visit.
12. Arnold Arboretum
If you’d like a break from the busyness of the city, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is the place to go. It is a botanical research institution and free public park, located at Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. The arboretum is open and free to visitors. When I lived in Boston, it was a popular place to meet up with fellow models and photographers to collaborate on photoshoots.
13. Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)
The MFA is the 20th-largest art museum in the world based on public gallery area. It consists 8,161 paintings and over 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas! Every year, it attracts over 1.2 million visitors. Some of the collections housed at the museum include Korean Art, ancient Egyptian treasures and works of Claude Monet during his own lifetime.